University of Delaware
UD's Thomas Buckley (left) and Tom Kaminski (right) work closely with Steve Broglio, a principal investigator on the NCAA/Department of Defense CARE Grand Alliance study.

National concussion discussion

Interest in head impacts in sports puts UD research front and center

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8:03 a.m., Nov. 17, 2015--The NFL. The NCAA. U.S. Soccer. The news media. Hollywood. The topic of concussions in sports has reached an unprecedented fervor and the University of Delaware’s concussion research team, led by Tom Kaminski and Thomas Buckley, is conducting research that puts UD front and center. 

As a participating institution in the landmark NCAA/Department of Defense CARE Grand Alliance study, UD is helping to address a fundamental question — what is the natural history of a concussion.

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“We work closely with UD Athletics to facilitate an extensive testing program,” says Buckley, assistant professor of kinesiology and applied physiology. “We can both assist with the health of our student-athletes while simultaneously acquiring critical research data.”

In back to back weeks, national names in concussion research visited Newark. Steven Broglio of the University of Michigan and David Howell of the Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention spoke separately, but highlighted many of the same themes and concerns. 

Broglio, who has conducted extensive research on the effects of concussion and repeated head impacts, discussed the domino effect of increased media attention, concussion myths, and long-term research plans. 

Howell, who is conducting post-doctoral research at Boston Children’s Hospital, focused on balance control deficits following a concussion.

“Despite recent advances, diagnosis and management decisions remain difficult for health care professionals,” explained Howell. 

Both Broglio and Howell regularly communicate with and receive data from the University of Delaware concussion research team. 

Even Will Smith is capitalizing on the public’s fascination with head impacts in his movie Concussion, which opens in December. Smith plays forensic pathologist and neuropathologist Bennet Omalu, who uncovered a link between repeated head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a discovery that put Omalu at odds with the NFL. 

Despite the media’s primary focus on head impacts in football, UD is conducting research on all student-athletes, including soccer — a sport that recently dropped its biggest news to date regarding head impacts. U.S. Soccer, which governs the sport in the United States, announced a heading ban for any player under the age of 10 and limited heading between ages 11 to 13. 

While the decree makes intuitive (and litigation-related) sense, it lacks evidence, explains Kaminski, director of the UD Athletic Training Program. 

“U.S. Soccer’s decision to ban heading below 10 years old is one based on intuition rather than sound scientific evidence,” explains Kaminski, who has conducted research on head impacts in soccer for nearly two decades. “I’ve argued that the skill of heading needs to be taught in these early years using a soft nerf ball. As kids get older, the ball is played in the air more. Rather than an outright ban, at the very least, kids would develop some semblance of good heading technique.”

The team of concussion researchers at the University are increasingly interested in studying forces to the head from young soccer players all the way through the professional ranks. 

“Through scientific research, we’ll be able to add substantive evidence in the near future that may support this notion that kids under 10 years should not be heading the ball,” adds Kaminski. 

Article by Dante LaPenta

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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